On the following day, when they came from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. – Mark 11:12-19
Perhaps you’ve seen the hilariously-funny British comedy, Keeping Up Appearances. The main character is Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced by her at every opportunity “bouquet”!). Hyacinth is deeply worried about how other people see her, she will make a point of mentioning that she is serving tea in her hand-painted china. When she received a wrong number telephone call she insisted: “This is not the Chinese restaurant. This is a residential number and you are speaking to the lady of the house on a white, slim line telephone with last number redial facility.” Hyacinth is obsessed with looking good in the eyes of others.
So was the fig tree Jesus encounters in Jerusalem before heading to the temple and after his arrival on Palm Sunday. The tree was showing good outward signs of life (green leaves) which would also suggest the presence of figs – even if many would be only partially ripe. But the tree had no figs. It was all good appearance from afar, but no fruit was there.
The same was the case at the temple when Jesus walks in. Lots of activity; people coming and going. Merchants selling their wares. But activity does not equate life. Just because lots of people are gathering and much is going on in any church does not mean that people are drawing near to God or that true life is in abundance.
Jesus does not care if we look busy or seem active – unless such business and activity is expressing true faith. The activities in the temple courts were doing the opposite of that. Not only were they preventing God’s house from being a house of prayer for all nations, they were taking advantage of their own people. By selling pigeons and changing money at exorbitant prices and rates they were defrauding their fellow Jews as well as keeping people from offering their prayers to God. Their activities may have had the appearance of godliness, but they were anything else.
Hyacinth’s posturing grows old quickly; I start laughing, but soon begin shaking my head in pity for one so worried about making a good impression. God’s solution to our need to impress was to lay aside all appearance of deity and grant access to himself through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. His appearance was nothing that would attract attention, but his message and ministry has changed the course of eternity for all who believe in him.